Top 7 Misconceptions About Teaching Abroad

Misconceptions about teaching abroad and why you shouldn’t pay attention to them

You’re thinking about teaching English abroad. But, you’ve been reading online and talking to friends and what started out as an idea you were enthusiastically considering now seems like a bad idea. The truth is, there are numerous misconceptions about teaching abroad which consistently come up and have probably discouraged a large number of people who otherwise would have traveled and taught and had an amazing time. Let’s take a look at seven of the most common misconceptions which may be negatively influencing your ability to make an accurate and informed decision on teaching abroad.  

1. You Need to Know Other Languages to Teach Abroad

Nine times out of ten, this is the first misconception about teaching abroad that comes up when discussing the topic with others. You say something about teaching abroad and they say “That sounds amazing. I’ve always wanted to do that, but I don’t speak insert foreign language here”.

In all but a select few cases, you don’t have to speak the local language. In fact, the school hiring you would probably prefer that you didn’t. In most cases, the primary reason that you are there isn’t necessarily to teach English but to speak English so that students can model your pronunciation. Oftentimes, you will be in the classroom with a local teacher who is there to teach the vocabulary. Your job will be to reinforce the lessons with proper pronunciation and extra practice.

There are some jobs which require a bilingual teacher who comes from an English speaking country. However, we’ve seen thousands of job listings and can verify that this was the case in less than 1% of them. You don’t need to speak anything other than English to find a good job teaching abroad.

2. Teaching Abroad is for People Who Don’t Know What They Want to Do

This misconception about teaching abroad drives us crazy. There is a certain grain of truth in that some people who teach abroad do so between graduating university and going into their chosen profession. However, there are plenty of teachers working abroad who make good money with great benefits. More money, sometimes, than they would make in their home country teaching at the same level.

Teaching abroad is still teaching. We usually look up to teachers in our home countries for the awesome work they do to help others. For some reason, however, traveling to a foreign country to do the same is looked down upon. There are many examples of teachers who have gone on to have successful careers whether as school administrators, teachers, or in other fields after teaching. Don’t believe for a moment that because you have “English Teacher in China” on your resume that you are going to be viewed as a less viable candidate when, and if, you finally move on from teaching. You won’t.

3. You Can’t Make and Save Money Teaching Abroad

This connects to the above misconception about teaching abroad. There is an inaccurate assumption that ESL teachers (or foreign teachers of any subject) are dreary alcoholics scraping by on pennies or backpackers trying to supplement their cost of travel. We aren’t going to say these people don’t exist, but, what we will say is that this a small part of the story.

There are many people teaching in countries around the world who are making awesome salaries with benefits that allow them to save a giant chunk of money each month. On the flip side, there are people who are teaching abroad who don’t have enough money to even buy a plane ticket back to their home country. What’s the difference between these two?

It’s the way they choose to live. Within a few months, you can easily be in a country like China, if you have the right qualifications (a bachelor’s degree in any field and a TEFL certification as well as a clean background and health check), making upwards of $3,000 each month with your apartment and utilities provided for you. You could quite easily be saving $2,000 each month. That’s $24,000 a year. But, you have to be smart with your money. Most of the stories you hear of broke teachers abroad are people who spend all of their money on travel and bars and eating out and don’t save anything. Or, teachers who choose to work in countries where the average pay is extremely low.

If you are smart with your money and if you can live within your means you can make and save money. Some teachers, in fact, are able to make high five-figure and even low six-figure salaries each year. This isn’t the norm. But, it is possible if you are smart about the way you work and save and have the right qualifications.

4. Teaching Abroad Can Be Dangerous

Have you looked at the crime rates in the city you currently live? Chances are they are higher than in many of the places you could end up teaching abroad in. However, people constantly look at traveling and living abroad as if it was the most dangerous thing in the world. It’s true that every year hundreds of people die while living or traveling abroad. On that same note, tens of millions of people don’t.

This misconception isn’t one that plagues only people looking to teach abroad. Talk to the average person in your home country about traveling abroad and they will probably look at you with horror. This is most likely a bi-product of popular media. Anytime something bad happens to someone from your country while they are living and traveling in another, there is a predictable backlash in the news. But as I mentioned above, have a look at the crime rates in your own country and the likelihood that you could be the victim of a crime. Chances are they are equal to, or higher than, the country you are thinking of teaching in.

5. You have to be a certified teacher to find work

You don’t. Not necessarily at least. Teaching abroad is just like anything else. Higher paying jobs are generally going to require people who have higher qualifications or more experience. There are countless entry and mid-level jobs, however, which will hire teachers who don’t have a teaching certification. Many of these jobs pay well and have attractive benefits. In China, for example, there are a plethora of jobs with good pay and good benefits where the only requirements are having a bachelor’s degree and a 120-hour TEFL certification and a clean criminal record.

There are countries where you have to have a teaching certification if you want to get hired. Especially in the Middle East in countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, having a teaching certification is actually a requirement for getting a visa for many types of teaching jobs. The same is true for more prestigious and higher paying jobs in other countries. However, if you are looking to get your foot in the door, you can easily do so without a teaching certification, and, if you like it, get your teaching certification later.

6. Teaching Abroad is a Good Way to Travel for Free

This is one of the more common misconceptions. It can certainly be an attractive way to supplement your travel expenses if you want to stay in one place for at least a year. However, teaching abroad is still a job. You will have to work for a minimum number of hours each week in one location. Also, you will have to manage your finances well.

Remember what we talked about before? About people not being able to make and save enough money teaching abroad? Extensive travel can be a major culprit behind their inability to do so.

Travel is expensive. Even if you are living in the country you are wanting to travel around, you will have to pay for transportation and hotels and all of the other associated expenses. This can drain your money quickly. So, yes, teaching abroad can be a way to supplement your travel expenses if you can meet your work commitments, however, chances are you won’t be jet setting in luxury and you are going to significantly impair your ability to save money.

7. It’s Hard to Find Jobs Teaching Abroad

Decades ago, if you wanted to teach abroad you had to book a ticket, fly to the country you wanted to live in and find a job the traditional way by going to schools and applying. The internet has changed all of that.

More often than not, schools will interview people over Skype (or a similar platform) and select a candidate before booking flights and signing papers. There are certain countries where this isn’t true and many people are still hired after they have landed. However, schools in many of the higher paying countries will generally perform interviews online and have all of your visa and work permits settled before you travel there.

If you are looking for great opportunities for teaching abroad, you can register and upload your resume and apply to jobs directly on the job board. Employers in countries around the world are looking for great teachers to work with students and applying is as simple as uploading your resume and hitting the apply button.  

Don’t let these common misconceptions about teaching abroad deter you from what could be an amazing experience. If you are truly interested in traveling and teaching abroad, register now and take the first step towards the opportunity of a lifetime.

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